Let’s Hear it for the NFC Least

Four teams. A combined record of 4-15-1 through the first five weeks of the season.  A combined point differential of -154. Welcome to the NFC Least.

For the second straight season, the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Football Team have come together to make headlines for the wrong reason: a whole lot of losing. Through Week Four, the 2020 NFC East had one of the worst starts in NFL history, second only to the 1984 AFC West which started a combined 3-13. All four teams have been severely underachieving so far and have become the laughing stock of the NFL, as they were a year ago when the 9-7 Eagles, decimated by injuries, were gifted the division crown by a choking Cowboys team and blindly stumbled into the postseason before quickly getting bounced by the Seattle Seahawks. Last season, the division crown went to the team that sucked the least. This season so far looks like the same type of scenario.

The mediocrity of the NFC East will cause football fans across the country to ask the same question they did last year: why should the winner of a division this bad get to go to the playoffs and have the right to host a playoff game no less? The league has altered the longtime playoff format by adding a seventh seed to each conference. However, it is a valid concern — that is, until your team is the one that gets to go to the postseason despite hovering around the .500 mark. While many fans despise the current playoff format that can send a mediocre team to the playoffs instead of a team with a better record in a stronger division, I think it is great for the league.

Handing out playoff spots solely by record in the NFL might bring justice to teams that deserve postseason play the most. However, this would certainly dampen an aspect of football that makes the game so much more meaningful: divisional rivalries. Playing a team twice a year every single season creates history and bad blood which enhances the sport. On top of that, having these rivalry games be the main factor in deciding who goes to the playoffs makes them even more special. Look at the NFC East: the Eagles vs. Cowboys and Eagles vs. Giants rivalries have created some memorable moments over the years, all in the name of seeing who would win the division in the end and make the playoffs, regardless of record. In fact, no team in the NFC East has won the division back-to-back since the Eagles won it four years in a row from 2001-2004. The added stakes in these rivalries have made football so much more exciting over the years. 

Furthermore, letting some of the worst division winners make the playoffs can lead to some incredible upsets and memorable postseason runs. No team proves this point more than the 2010 Seattle Seahawks.  They made the playoffs with a losing record of 7-9, and were seen as no more than a joke produced by the league’s flawed playoff format. Then, they shocked the world by beating Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round, as Marshawn Lynch found the end zone with his legendary Beast Mode run. Could you imagine if arguably the best run in NFL history never took place? It was one of the all-time great plays in history, and it never would have happened if the 7-9 Seahawks were denied their place in the postseason.

Carson Wentz has been shaky all season so far and can’t stop throwing interceptions. Dak Prescott suffered a gruesome ankle injury in Week Five while his defense continues to be porous. The Washington Football team has already ditched Dwayne Haskins for Kyle Allen at quarterback. And the New York Giants are winless through five games. The NFC East may be in a bad place right now, but let’s give it the respect it deserves. Who knows, maybe one of these lowly teams can shock the world in January.